NBA playoff picture: Lakers pick up ground on Jazz for No. 8 in West


The Los Angeles Lakers may make the playoffs after all: they've won two in a row behind brilliant performances by Kobe Bryant, and are just half a game behind the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot.

If Kobe Bryant continues to carry the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Utah Jazz continue struggling, the superteam with Kobe and Dwight Howard could actually squeak into the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Lakers are only half a game behind the Jazz.

The Lakers trailed by 25 on Wednesday night against the last-place Hornets, but Bryant responded with 42 points and 12 assists. They trailed by 15 on Friday night against the ninth-place Toronto Raptors, but Bryant had 41 points — including a game-tying three to send the game into overtime and a game-winning dunk once they were there — and the Lakers got the win.

Meanwhile, the Jazz lost to the Bulls as Marco Belinelli hit a go-ahead three with under six seconds on the clock. They've now lost three in a row and six out of seven, and it's come at the wrong time. The good news for Utah is that with Al Jefferson back from a sprained ankle and Mo Williams returning to the lineup after missing over two months with a finger injury, they're healthy for the stretch run. The bad news is they have to beat out a team that, for all its woes, boasts one of the league's best players and a guy who's supposed to be the league's top center, as well as a decent supporting cast.

The Lakers could conceivably rise as high as sixth — they're just three games behind the Warriors, with the Rockets just a game behind them — but they'd settle for getting into the postseason after a troubling year.

There's other battles on the West's playoff ladder: the Thunder are just 1.5 back of the Spurs for the top seed and the Clippers are just a game ahead of the Grizzlies for the third seed, while the Nuggets are 2.5 games back of the Clippers. But there's enough separation between the Nuggets and Warriors that the top five spots are essentially locked up.

Here's a look at the full conference standings:

Western Standings

San Antonio Spurs 63 48-15 .762
Oklahoma City Thunder 62 46-16 .742
Los Angeles Clippers 64 44-20 .688
Memphis Grizzlies 60 41-19 .683
Denver Nuggets 63 41-22 .651
Golden State Warriors 63 35-28 .556
Houston Rockets 63 34-29 .540
Utah Jazz 62 32-30 .516
Los Angeles Lakers 63 32-31 .508
Portland Trail Blazers 61 29-32 .475
Dallas Mavericks 61 28-33 .459
Minnesota Timberwolves 58 21-37 .362
Sacramento Kings 64 22-42 .344
Phoenix Suns 62 21-41 .339
New Orleans Hornets 62 21-41 .339

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